What Is the Local Church?
A short definition of “the local church” is that it is a local assembly of disciples committed to obeying Jesus together. Let’s look at this definition in more detail.
The Local Church Is a Local Assembly of Disciples . . .
The local church is a local assembly of disciples. It is not enough to be a part of the universal church (all Christians throughout the world and throughout time). Every believer needs a healthy local expression of the church to which they can belong. This is why every Christian should join a church within a reasonable distance from where they live (i.e., local). In the New Testament, almost every time the word “church” is used, it is a reference to a local church. Many of the teachings from Jesus and the apostles would make no sense apart from an expectation that Christians would identify with and commit to a specific group of local believers (e.g., Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
The local church is a local assembly of disciples. It is also not enough to see yourself as part of the community of Christians within your city or county. A local church is by definition a group of Christian disciples who assemble together on a regular basis for worship and edification. The Greek word for “church” (ekklesia) can literally be translated “assembly.” This is what is in mind when the author of Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The local church is a local assembly of disciples. The membership of a local church must be restricted to actual disciples (i.e., Christians). Of course, non-Christians are welcome to attend worship services, small group meetings, and various other ministries, but to be a part of God’s church is by definition to be one of Christ’s disciples. This is why when Peter confessed to believe that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus responded that it was on that confession that he would “build his church” (see Matthew 16:16-18). In order to be a part of the church Christ is building, you must be a “believer.”
. . . Committed to Obeying Jesus Together.
What is each local assembly of disciples supposed to do? Much could be said here, but the short answer is: obey Jesus together. Jesus said that once people are converted and baptized they are to be taught to obey all that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:20). The New Testament teaches that the local church is the primary context in which disciples are taught how to obey Christ’s commands. This is why when the first local church was established, it says they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread [i.e., Lord’s Supper] and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Notice, the believers did not try to “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching” alone; rather, they devoted themselves to God’s Word together with their fellow church members.
Why Is the Local Church Important?
There are at least three primary reasons for why the local church is important.
For the Edification of Believers
One of the main reasons the local church is important is because we need other Christians who will live out the Christian life alongside us. We need their encouragement (Hebrews 10:25), their accountability (Matthew 18:15-17), and the benefit of their spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31). If you are not a vital part of a local church, you will not grow as you should and you will not contribute to the growth of others as you should.
For the Advancement of the Gospel
Another reason the local church is important is because it is God’s plan “A” for the advancement of the gospel. The local church is responsible for reaching its community with the gospel, and it is responsible for raising up and sending out those who will take the gospel to communities around the world that need to hear the gospel (see Acts 13:1-3).
For the Glory of God
Finally, when a local church functions as it is supposed to function, it is a reflection of God’s glory in a dark world. Paul says that it is “through the church” that “the manifold wisdom of God is made known” (Ephesians 3:10). Notice, it is not through the Christian individual that God’s wisdom and glory are displayed; rather, it is through the church (a local assembly of disciples committed to obeying Jesus together) that the wisdom and glory of God are displayed.
So, what is the local church and why is it important? Answer: the local church is a local assembly of disciples committed to obeying Christ together, and it is important because through the local church believers are edified, the gospel is advanced, and God is glorified.